Thursday, 22 September 2016

Perry's Lookdown: Back in Fashion!

Despite the common perception that the Blue Mountains is Australia's "Sport Climbing Mecca", I've always believed that its real selling point as a unique climbing destination is found in its "easy access exposure".

There are numerous major "Sport Climbing" destinations in Australia which offer as great a volume and variety of convenient quality clip-ups as the Blueys, but the large number of consumer-friendly large-scale well-equipped multipitch climbs is the one thing that makes this place truly special, even on a world scale.

So, what do you do when you're a Blueys climber suffering a crisis of purpose and motivation? You go and tackle some big adventurous routes in the Blueys.



Red Edge (180m 6-Pitch Mixed 25)


Photo by: Simon Carter
( http://www.onsight.com.au/product/red-edge/ )
First on the list was Red Edge (180m 6-Pitch Mixed 25) at Perry's Lookdown.

Known in climbing circles primarily due to a classic Simon Carter photo of Mike Law performing the terrifyingly exposed crux moves of the climb (shown to the left), Neil Monteith had some hilarious unfinished business with the route that had hung over his head like the proverbial Sword of Damocles for the last 2 years.

Photo also by: Simon Carter (and
pinched from Neil's Facebook Page).
Legend has it that after lugging out 200m of static rope (to do the multi-pitch abseil-in as a single giant abseil) and rapping all the way to the ground, his partner -Will- became ill with food poisoning, forcing Neil to undergo the 200m "Jumaar of Shame" back to the top. This moment of defeat was captured by Simon's immortal photo (also shown to the left), and insult was added to injury as this photo was published in Simon's "Rock Climbing Down Under: Australia Exposed" coffee book for all the world to see. Needless to say, Neil was keen to finally put this smear on his climbing record to rest.

On the 28th August we made our way out to Perry's Lookdown, where friends of ours -Jason McCarthy and Adam Pecan- had kindly left 180m of rope in situ (they were climbing the nearby route "The Regular Route" that day) making the abseil to the base of the climb a cinch. By 10am we were below the start of the route, and ready to rock.






Neil on the easier upper section of Pitch 1 (23),
with all of his obligatory whimpering behind him.
The crux of the first pitch (40m 23) was the first 10m off the ground, and was all Neil's to enjoy. The first carrot bolt (yes, most of the bolts on this climb are carrots!) is quite high, but Monty managed to stick clip it in classic Trad-dad fashion with the help of a spare sling and a wire. Starting up a shallow layback flake and quickly becoming punchy thin-face climbing on spaced gear, the pitch eventually ends up on the arete, at which point its a fairly pleasant cruise to the belay. Both Neil and I climbed it clean -though not without some desperate snatches and epic flash pump, and a spot of entertaining whimpering from Neil.













Neil's photo of me on the easy (but
incredibly run-out) arete of Pitch 2 (25).
The next pitch (40m 25) begins in frustratingly common Blueys fashion, with a nails undercut boulder-problem start right off the belay. I had a bit of a lash at the crimp-dyno start, but deemed it too tedious to put much effort into, and ended up pulling past it to the 2nd bolt. This pitch is alternatively written up as 22M1 (pulling on the first bolt to gain the second), and that's how I climbed it. Despite the impurity of a not totally free pitch, aiding the first move does make this pitch more pleasant, as you climb past 2 more bolts of punchy gr22 face climbing, before entering into relatively easy but terrifically runout face climbing on dubious gear. As I wandered my way up the pitch -traversing out to the arete, now back to the face, and back to the arete again- I did begin to wonder whether perhaps Neil had lead me off-route, due to the incredibly sparse and dubious pro and rather flaky rock. But all's well that ends well, and I managed to make it to the belay without dying.










Jason McCarthy's photo of Neil
getting creative to place some pro on
Pitch 3 (23). Taken from the P4 belay
on The Regular Route.
Neil's second lead was a corker of a pitch. Graded 23 officially, but probably more 21/22 in reality, it commences with an improbable sequence up a holdless slabby arete, before meandering to the belay in a rising leftwards traverse on beautiful orange rock. With no real crux, and plentiful -though spaced- gear, it was just the type of quality we needed to finally get inspired by this purportedly classic route. Slightly overhanging, the theme of this pitch was "keep your shit together" and despite some more hilariously frenzied dialogue from Neil (I find it hilarious when Monty gets scared on a climb, does that make me a sadist?), both of us managed to do exactly that, climbing the Pitch clean to the belay.

Looking down Pitch 3 as I meander my way up it. Brilliant!

Sticking the crux moves of the 24M1
version of "The Money Pitch"...
For some reason I'm going feet
first to the arete?
Next up was the infamous "money pitch" of this route - P4 25m (25). As you can probably work out from the photo, this ball-shriveling pitch traverses a bouldery-thin headwall above an enormously exposed undercut roof to gain an arete, which you then climb to the belay.

The first carrot bolt was stupidly high, with no additional pro, and 6m of utter cheese to negotiate to get to it. Fortunately, the climbing was much easier than I expected, and with the bolt clipped I found myself staring stupidly at a truly unfathomable crux. With some technical trickery I managed to clip another bolt further left, and despite the route description to "stay right of the first bolt for a few moves" -which seemed completely illogical at the time- I tried to climb the route direct up a series of invisible holds. I managed to stick a few moves and was probably one foot movement away from onsighting the crux using a grade 1-million sequence, but eventually fell off. Like the 2nd Pitch, this pitch is also written up with an "aid variant" at 24M1, whereby you pull on the 2nd bolt to reach the 3rd, and free from there. After falling off -and having no bloody idea where the actual "line" of this pitch went-, I decided to try and Onsight the 24M1 variant.






Neil hanging on the bolt on the aid move of the 24M1 variant
to Pitch 4. "How the hell does this go free?"
In the photo of Mike on the pitch, he's climbing left-hip into the wall, and working his hands onto the arete. For some reason, while Onsighting the moves from the 3rd bolt, past the 4th, and out onto the arete, I ended up leading feet-first. From the last "okay" handhold (and with no good feet to speak of), I flicked my heels around the arete to heel-hook it, and commenced a full-trust rock-over, eventually laybacking the arete in desperation (and with no idea what exactly I was blindly heel-hooking). Tucking in tightly to the arete, I managed to find a reasonable footer on the face around to the left side, and switched to using that, completing the rock-over and ending up on the face to the left side of the arete. Once around the arete, one more grade 23 thin arete/face move guards easier climbing to the anchors, and I arrived there utterly gripped and shaking from the adrenaline rush. What a pitch!


Neil about to commit to the -frankly-
nutty crux of the climb.
It's only when you're above the crux, looking down, that you can really understand how this pitch is supposed to go free at the grade: from the 1st bolt, you clip the 2nd bolt from an undercling (immediately next to the undercut roof), then climb up right of the first bolt until it's at your waist, traverse left over it via a fairly reasonable flake, and climb down a move to gain the clipping hold at the 3rd bolt. It seems ludicrously improbable, and the bolts don't exactly "lead the way" (though they are in the right places), but upon reflection it actually seems intriguingly convoluted, and I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't get a chance to have a crack at the true free version of this pitch.

Neil followed me using more or less the same 24M1 version, and with the same total bewilderment at the around-the-world nature of the truly free version of this pitch. Both equally adrenalised and psyched for more, Monty started up the final "hard" Pitch of the route: Pitch 5 (35m 24).

This too was a stellar pitch of sustained climbing in a true endurance vein (and featuring a long-ish power-endurance crux). Hard moves off the belay to gain the arete, then you're thrust into the thick of the action with powerful moves up a series of holds that are never as good as you want them to be. The rock is both physically and aesthetically gorgeous, but with the mini-epic of carrot-bolts and spaced gear, this pitch proved to be too much for the intrepid Rabid Hamster, with the metaphorical wheels falling off about halfway up, and some entertaining aid-climbing shenanigans ensuing.

Neil enters the power-endurance crux of Pitch
5 (24).
After he reached the top, I -steel feeling strong and very psyched at this point- was determined to climb the pitch clean on second, having presumed that Neil's fear and lack of multipitch fitness (he is a new Dad, after all, and forever consigned to half-day climbing) was the only thing that made this pitch tough. Inevitably, I was proven wrong, as I grew desperate on the final powerful moves of the long crux and over-extended myself to avoid using a bad intermediate. I was totally strung out 2-moves from victory, and consequently fell of. D'oh! "Alright Neil, I suppose it's hard".

The last "Megaclassic" Pitch (P6 - 20m gr10) was -unfortunately- mine, and was a pretty standard Blueys "exit pitch", consisting of vertical gardening, loose rock, dirt, a few vaguely climbing related moves, and the odd bit of mandatory pro. We topped out and were back at the car approximately 6.5hours after we left, where Adam and Jason had kindly pulled up the 150m of fixed ropes and neatly coiled them for us. What great chaps!

From here it was to the pub to recount the days events and stop war stories of sketchy multipitches, told with the aid of a thousand-yard stare across a schooner of stout. 

So, what of the route itself? Pitches 3, 4 and 5 were Classic. Pitch 1 and 2 were Average, and Pitch 6 was terrible. The rock was a mixed bag, but mostly was quite good, and the positions were undeniably inspiring. The good bits of climbing were particularly good, and especially if you're open to aiding -literally- 2 moves, then it's not even particularly cruxy. The runouts, carrots, and sparse gear make this a fairly serious undertaking. Not exactly "dangerous", but certainly not a route I'd recommend to anyone who didn't have a good, bold trad head and keenness for "adventurous climbing". As a Blueys adventure route, I'd give this 3 stars (with the above caveat), and I do recommend it to anyone who isn't put off by its "old-school" adventurous nature.


The Regular Route (7-Pitch 220m Sport 25/26) 

 

Jason on belay and Adam on Second on
Pitch 5 of The Regular Route (24).
For the entire time that Neil and I were on Red Edge, we were looking across at Jason and Adam on The Regular Route, a newly freed route originally bolted by Jason Clark back in the Dark Ages (and now climbed by Lee Cossey). From our perspective on the neighbouring arete, the line looks utterly spectacular, and just to demonstrate my point, here's a photo of Jason and Adam on The Regular Route that I took from Red Edge:

Inspired by this, Neil and I made plans to tackle the route in its entirety the following weekend (4th September, 2016). Clearly the route had left a good impression on Jason and Adam, as Jason had -unbeknownst to us- teamed up with his partner Jenna to reclimb it the very same day, and Adam had arranged to reclimb it with his missus -Carolyn- the following day. Clearly it must be good, right?

This time it was our turn to fix the ropes, so I lugged 180m of static ropes to the cliff edge, and rapped in -having to negotiate 2 knots in the process-. For future climbers of The Regular Route, here's an interesting little factoid that might make the abseil in a lot easier: you only need 130m of rope to reach the big ledge (with a bit to spare), and with a single doubled 70m dynamic you can abseil again from there to the base of the route.


Neil, just above the crux of Pitch 1 (23). Note the aretes of
Red Edge at the far left of the picture.
Neil scored himself the first pitch (again), and in a repeat of last-weeks effort managed to battle up the initial crux moves (more or less straight off the ground), cruise the easier middle-section, and teeter his way up the slightly runout thin-slab finale to the top. With Jason and Jenna now arriving at the base of the fixed ropes to start up the route, I jumped on and launched myself at the crux. Trying to use Neil's sequence (he sidled somewhat right at the crux), I promptly broke off a hold that he'd used, and fell most of the way back to the ground on stretch. Pulling back on at the first bolt (with 2m of gr18 between there and the ground), I climbed more directly up (which, having done it, is definitely the "correct" way to do the pitch), and continued cleanly to the anchors. Lapping at my heels by now, Jason and Jenna both tackled this pitch after me, and managed to climb it clean using my sequence through the crux. Unfortunately this pitch has some crap, friable rock on it, but despite this it's still okay climbing (and is, in hindsight, the worst pitch of the entire route).

Next up was -what would turn out to be- the crux of the entire route. A 40m pitch that was originally graded 24, it has all the hallmarks of a Cosmic County-esque classic in the vein of Toyland Direct, Aesthetic Images or Building a Better Mousetrap. Beautiful rippled orange rock, very slightly overhanging, relentlessly thin... I was psyched!

Neil seconding Pitch 2 (25/26), on the last of the hard moves.
Note the chalk braille below him, and Jason and Jenna on belay.
But I hadn't made it very far before I realised that it was proper hard. I got off-route at the 3rd bolt and had a big swinging whip. Even having another crack from the belay, I fell several more times before I found the crucial fingernail-edge holds up a rounded leaning-flake. Some easy moves led to an exciting traverse, which concluded with a solid gr24 sequence to gain the next bolt, after 5m of horizontal runout. Immediately after this bolt is the next crux: some punchy thin moves on microflake edges with improbably high-stepping and balancy rock-overs (and another desperate clip). After performing a tenuous mantle, its still a solid gr23 to the belay. Arriving at the belay I was pretty trashed, but the difficulties I found were vindicated when Neil had at least as much trouble, and had the forethought to leave a giant sling on the crazy-runout section, which was clipped by our chasers with a great deal of relief. Despite some valiant efforts from Jason and Jenna, none of us managed to get this pitch clean Onsight, Flash or on Second... We arrived at the conclusion that this pitch is either utterly nails 25, or soft-ish 26... Quite the sandbag, considering its original grading.

With Monty feeling utterly smashed after seconding the previous pitch, and me having had a chance to rest while belaying him on it, we switched leads and I started up Pitch 3, a 25m pitch also graded gr24. Considering what the previous "24" pitch had consisted of, I was a bit apprehensive, and sure enough I was soon feeling clobbered with another hefty sandbag. Jason had warned me the week before that there was a move on this pitch that didn't even seem possible, and it would turn out that he was right.

Jason and Adam on Pitch 3 (25) the previous
week. You can see Jason here attempting to
"Red Herring" direct version of the Pitch.
A series of spectacular face moves on beautiful orange rock took me to the arete, with some funky arete moves to a horizontal below a roof bulge. The bolt on the arete seems to indicate that you should go direct up through the bulge, but after climbing up to try the sequence a few times, it seemed highly improbably at the grade. Still on link (I could easily retreat to a perfect handjam and camp-out there to strategise), I decided to try another sequence going directly up the face on a series of thin technical moves. Impossibly I managed to stick the sequence, arriving at an "okay" hold, with only a few exciting (but comparatively easy) moves to gain the arete guarding the way to success. But looking down, and seeing that last bolt quite a few metres below me and positioned on the arete, and realising that a fall from here was a ground-fall, I opted to downclimb a few moves and jump off.

As you might imagine, I was pissed off to fail, and I ended up using the bolt to pull past the move and climb the arete directly. The remainder of the pitch was easier, but continually interesting arete climbing, but with literally all of the bolts in completely and utterly the wrong places (on the left side of the arete when you're climbing the right side, and needlessly runout when you end up in the centre of the face). None of us managed to actually get this pitch clean, with Jenna committing to the same face-sequence as I did, only to -also- back-off when she saw the ground-fall potential.

 Neil climbing the corner-crack, the traverse
line is just above him.
"Thank god, we've found an easy pitch!"
Talking to Lee Cossey afterwards, it turns out that you do actually go up the face on this pitch, and the existing bolt in this section was one of Justin Clark's rap-bolted original placements, whereby he was hoping the line would go direct up the arete. D'oh!

So, 3 pitches down, and 2 of them had been grossly sandbagged and had spanked us seven ways 'til Sunday.... Things were looking great!

Fortunately for us, with 4 pitches still remaining, this was the turning point. Pitch 4 was originally graded 23, but felt more like 21, as it climbed a sharp but enjoyable corner-crack (with ample stemming opportunities), before traversing boldly across the face on a radical line of jugs to gain the arete. Though the pitch was a bit wet, and the rock on the traverse a bit grainy (probably the worst rock on the climb), this was a stellar pitch, and ridiculously soft at gr23. All of us floated up it easily.








Neil, about to commit to the crux of Pitch 5 (24). Exposure
much?
This was followed up with a brilliant sustained technical arete (24) on spectacular orange/red rock. Complex, tricky, sustained, and featuring ludicrous exposure with all the world positioned below you. I managed to onsight this classic pitch (though not without some difficulties, as I fought to find the holds and sequences on the unforgiving arete) and Neil followed suit. This pitch was about right at the grade, for which we were both extremely grateful.









Neil's photo of Adam just above the roof-turn
of Pitch 6 (22) the previous week.

Now that we were on a roll, confidence was high, and the psyche was back! Neil threw himself a Pitch 6 (23) with gusto, and was surprised to find that this pitch was also pretty soft at the grade (and also featured at least 2 bolts in completely the wrong places). Stepping out over the sucking void, he climbed the right side of a slabby arete to a stance below a square-cut roof. Steeling himself, Monty launched himself through the roof-cum-arete, and blasted up the juggy headwall above to the belay. Though the rock was not as great as some of the previous pitches, the climbing is generally enjoyable, and the position (and moves) are the very definition of funky. I followed Neil up it with glee, and Jason and Jenna soon pursued us cleanly.










Jenna contemplates the crux of Pitch 5 (24), and Jason
shows off for the camera.
The last pitch of The Regular Route is the same as the last pitch of A Date with Density, and a 40m 23 steep-ish pumper on sculpted red rock of extremely high quality. This sort of climbing is my area of expertise, and I blasted up it for the Onsight (having never climbed A Date with Density), loving every minute of it. It concludes with a long section of slabbing on inferior grey rock, but at this point, nothing could spoil the awesomeness of this pitch. What a great way to finish the climb!

We topped out, pulled up our 180m of fixed ropes, and were soon joined by Jason and Jenna, returning to the cars a mere 7 hours after we set off. Buggered? Hell yes, but what a bloody great day!

Neil finishes the grey slab at the top of Pitch 7 (23) while
Jason pursues him from Pitch 6 (22).
So, how do I rate the route? Well, for a bolted hard-ish multipitch in the Blueys, it is quite literally the best one that I've ever climbed (even better Grossness or Weaselburger), with 7 spectacular pitches of high quality climbing and generally brilliant rock. There are no crappy "access pitches" or "exit pitches", nor any of the weird vertical gardening pitches so common to the larger Blueys Multis (I'm looking at you, Hotel California!). If you discount the somewhat nutty grading, only the poorly placed bolts in a few sections mar this route and make it far more committing, dangerous, and rope-shredding than it needs to be. Our consensus of the final grades for this route are: 23, 25/26, 25, 21, 24, 22, 23.

Talking to Lee Cossey about this route after we finished it, I shared my opinion of the routes quality, as well as my recommendations about the grades and the bolting. He was extremely receptive and psyched to hear that we rated the climb so highly. He also advised that he will head out within the next few weeks and fix up the bolts (in particular: adding a bolt to the crazy sideways runout on P2; Moving the bolt from the arete to the face on P3 and possibly relocating some of the bolts to the "correct side" of the arete on this pitch; and moving several of the bolts on P6 to reduce the epic rope drag). This might even be done by now, and if it is, then I have absolutely no qualms about advocating this as the quintessential Blueys hard-ish Sport Multi. If you can hack the grade, you need to get on it. The word "classic" was created to describe this route.



And Then...

 

I was due to head down to the Grampians with Ben Jenga for a week of crushing on beautiful quartzite sandstone, but before I left I had some unfinished business.

For a few weeks I'd been playing on an old Mike Law route Big Red (60m 27) out at Corroborree Walls, Mount Victoria in my spare time. With a view to leading it eventually, I put in one day of Top Rope Soloing on it each week during the time that I was back, mostly just wanting to have something a bit obscure (and given 4-stars in the recent edition of the Blue Mountains Climbing Guidebook) to try and rebuild the psyche after my recent depression.

The line of Big Red (60m 27).
Despite appearances, it's not
actually as close to the corner
as this photo might suggest.
An eye-catching flame-red in colour, this monster-pitch of climbing is extremely varied in climbing style, rock-quality, sustainedness and rock-type. Marred by 3 shale-bands over its 60m length (none of which you actually have to touch, as you simply pull past them) and 8 rather blatant chipped pockets, it was recently re-bolted by Dr Chris Coghill and Even Wells. The route itself starts with about 12m 22 technical slab to a rest, before plunging headfirst into the first crux, a steep and powerful gr24 sequence, to another rest. This leads to a gr23 sequence and the next long crux, featuring some technical moves up a flake, and a series of powerful pocket-pounces which clocks in at gr24/25. A tricky no-hands rest, some enjoyable easy face climbing, and a punchy set of moves through a huge bulge (23/24) to another no hands rest. Finally, you tackle the red-point crux: a tough series of powerful moves through another bulge on surprisingly small holds, culminating it an utterly nails move to stand up into a bad undercling above your head, get your left foot to the same height as your shoulders, stand-up into it and drive-by at full-span to a good ledge, and the anchor.

After 4 days of Top Rope Soloing I had it pretty dialed, and on 7th September 2016 I decided to drag my old man out to belay me on a lead shot of it.






One of Simon's photos of me on Big Red, on the
final moves of the 2nd crux (24/25) punchy
pocketed section,
Simon Carter had also mentioned the possibility of getting photos of me on it -since it's currently given an unprecedented 4-stars, and he'd never had the chance to capture anyone climbing it, so he came out to join us for the day.

My first shot went quite well, but I missed a pocket that I was pouncing for at the 2nd crux (the 24/25 pocketed section) and -due to my habit of skipping clips- resulted in a rather massive whip (and the inevitable efforts of gravity to pull my substantially lighter Old Man through the first quickdraw).

After a quick rest, I went up again, and over an epic 40min I managed to top out the climb clean, scoring a rare repeat of this route, and a much-needed win before my trip to the Grampians.

With respect to the route itself... In my not-so-humble opinion, it's definitely not a 4-star climb, and in reality is probably more of a 2-star affair. It's still enjoyable in an adventurous kind of way, but the numerous blatant chips and the very mixed quality of the rock robs it from ever being a true classic.







"Ugh..." Our beautiful campsite at Buandik.
With that done and dusted, I headed off to the Gramps with Ben Jenga, Matt Springall, Lloyd "Methane Maestro" Wishard, Jason "Pommy" Smith, and Julian Hurrell. The weather forecast appeared to be utterly hideous, and -as it turned out- it has, in fact, been utterly hideous.

Nevertheless, we push on. Abandoning any hope of climbing on Taipan or Eureka Wall, we've stuck to the caves and a few of our number have managed to crush.

Good weather or bad weather, nothing is going to stop us enjoying a climbing trip to The Gramps...  

"Wait... What..? Ah dammit!"







Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Obsidian Depression


The Obsidian ObseDepression


Photo Credit: Ant Harris ( http://antsclimbingspace.blogspot.com.au/2013/09/bare-rock-at-fingalnorthern-tasmania.html )

Long term readers will know of my prolonged battle with a route I bolted in March 2015 at Bare Rock, dubbed the Obsidian Obsession Project.

Located on the top tier in the center of Bare Rock (off the "Orange Crush" ledge) in a rap-in, climb-out area, Obsidian Obsession climbs a beautiful bullet-hard black streak of dolerite, featuring sustained climbing on small, slippery, slopey blocky holds that demand intricate footwork and precise body-positions to make usable. The soaring position atop the Great Naked Rock leaves you with 150m of air below your feet, and the company of the local Peregrine Falcons (and Wedge-Tailed Eagles) to cheer you on in your many, many, oh so many red-point attempts.

Gerry Narkowicz's current Topo to the sport-climbs on the middle section of Bare Rock.
Obsidian Obsession follows the blue line in the upper-left corner of the photo.
Crux: Moves 1 & 2 (match this small, slippery, down-turned crimp).

The climb starts with a 10m section of Grade 26 climbing, very slightly overhanging, but extremely technical and precise, with sustained open-handed sidepulls, and increasing intensity all the way to the point where the crux section begins.








Crux: Move 3 (a big span to gain this
small, sharp sidepull).

With no rest from the opening section, the crux is 6-moves that form a V6+ boulder problem, where every move is harder and requires more precision than the last. Upon sticking the crux you reach a "token shake-out" hold (which also happens to be the only "okay" hold on the route), then blast into a bizarre V3 sequence featuring a "fall" onto an open-handed gaston, and a stand-up using an undercling crimp that is initially located above your head.





Crux: Move 4 (fall onto this
hideous sloper-sidepull).


Next is a tolerable sloper to shake and clip, then the upper V4 crux: a few small slippery edges, place your left foot at the same height as your hands, and rock-over to glory. Right at tipping point you snag a -literally- fingernail-sized edge, and complete the rock-over to a 1-pad edge that I can just creep my fingers onto at full stretch. Now all that remains is some grade 22 thinness, a megajug, and a final grade 22 crimp-ladder through a roof bulge. By the end of my time on the Project this year, I estimated the route at grade 29, using my experience and the other routes at Bare Rock as the benchmark.














Crux: Move 5 (my Nemesis!
From a huge throw, catch one of the
worst holds I've ever held in climbing,
build up your feet, and launch to a good hold.)

For me, ticking this thing would be a huge step forward in my climbing, and considering the mini-epic just to access and descend from the route (never mind climbing it), it would prove to be a big step forward in my patience as well.















The abseil to gain the "Orange Crush" belay Ledge. Obsidian Obsession climbs the black streak
directly above where I am in the photo.

A photo of me working the route on Top Rope Solo back in
March 2015.
I had 11 laps on it back in 2015, and made some progress but was completely shut-down by the main crux (and found the upper crux to be touch-and-go, even off a prolonged rest). This year, despite a brief lap on it while climbing a multipitch that goes the length of the face at Bare Rock (Black Fire, 4-Pitch 25) with Carlos in December, I committed myself to the true long-term siege in mid-January.


Initially, the route felt impossible, and early-on while Top-Rope-Soloing it into submission, I expressed my doubts that I could ever tick it. But as time went by I started to make breakthroughs. I dialled the opening section, perfected the V3 section (to a point that I never fell off it again in all my subsequent attempts), and sorted out some new, final beta for the V4 upper crux. The route was achieving a degree of perfection, but I was still struggling to get any linkage on the crux boulder even in isolation, never mind as a part of the full route. My lack of progress was starting to wear me down, and a massive flood in February coated much of Bare Rock (including my route) in a film of mud that required a complete rescrubbing of every square metre of rock. 


Looking down the line of The Obsidian
Obsession, back in March 2015.

This was very nearly the straw that broke the wayward climbers' back, but great encouragement from Ingvar Lidman, Garry Phillips, Gerry Narkowicz and Isaac Lethborg kept me on the siege warfare path. I scrubbed the entire route with the dustpan broom from my van, and fine-tuned it with my bouldering brush. Over time I got the route more dialed, and started dragging belayers up to the ledge so I could jump on the sharp-end in the hope that being on Lead would give me the extra boost to push through for the Send. But I was still being slaughtered by the crux on link despite being able to do the opening gr26 section 3x clean back-to-back consecutively for training. The intermittently spoogy, wet or roasting hot weather did little to help the situation. By the end of March, with 32 laps on the route since the start of the year, I was completely over it, and had -essentially- given up any hope of climbing it.













The final (desperate) moves of the opening gr26 section of
Obsidian Obsession.
I went and climbed other things around Tassie, bolted new routes at Bare Rock, and had a blast (as you probably know, if you've been reading my previous blog entries). Eventually, in June, I ended up back on Orange Crush Ledge to belay Garry Phillips on a route he'd bolted there- the direct version of my route: Amber Allure (35m 25). Garry's route ended up going at gr27, but while I was up there I jumped back on the sharp end, and -impossibly- made a breakthrough for the first time in about 4 months: I was able to consistently and reliably do the last 2 moves of the Crux boulder (which I was previously getting through 1 in 10 attempts, even in isolation).






Latching move 5 of the crux.
The race was back on to do the First Ascent. With Ingvar Lidman back in the state (and having bolted a new route near Obsidian Obsession to justify hanging out with me on the ledge day-after-day), the last of my Tassie Objectives completed in the recent months (including doing the First Repeat of Barbarella! (27), establishing a tough sustained linkup of Barbarella into Velvet Morning via 4 new bolts and 8m of new climbing (Queen of the Galaxy (26/27)) and ticking No Space in Time (28), I was able to throw myself at it wholeheartedly. Another breakthrough soon after (using a revised, but hard-to-see footer) meant that every shot was now a potential Send, and I was back to dieting, having rest-days, strategic warmups and targeted training. My whole life revolved around this route once again.










Building up to the last pounce-move of the 6-move crux
sequence.
I was getting close: falling off going for the last move of the crux on link. I was getting frustrated, feeling optimistic, dreaming about the moves, discussing them ad nauseam with anyone who would listen... but still it escaped me. The walk up to the top of the cliff takes about 45min, after this there is a 70m abseil to get to the start of the route (with several points of short-fixing to avoid the rope running over sharp edges). The route is in the sun for most of the day, making either really early or really late sessions the key for ideal conditions. To escape at the end of the day, you either do 5 abseils back to the ground, or jumaar back up 70m of fixed ropes and walk back down the hill. It was a huge investment in time and energy, and I was beginning to hate every aspect of it.




Mid-way through the weird V4 upper crux.
At this time I was reading Andy Pollitt's book "Punk in the Gym", in which he talks about his protracted siege on Punks in the Gym starting to feel like a "day job". He'd punch his metaphorical punch-card at the start of the work day, destroy himself falling off the route, clock off for the day and go drink beer. Weekends were for having fun climbing elsewhere. I could see this in my own experiences, and as time went by I was no longer having any fun. My fuse was getting shorter, and I was snapping at friends for tiny mistakes in their belaying (on this route and on others). I could now climb the opening gr26 section 5 x clean back-to-back consecutively with 5kgs of weight on my harness, so I was reaching the crux feeling pretty damn fresh on my link attempts...











But I just couldn't Send it!


Almost latching the final move of the crux... again.
Finally, one day, I reached my limit. I was starting to go backwards in my efforts, falling off before I had actually fallen off (because I'd become so used to falling, I had become well-practiced at falling in the same spot... I was training to fail), and was just over it. On 29th June 2016, after one particularly pathetic fall on the early stages of the crux, I made the spur of the moment call to dog my way to the anchors, take my quickdraws off the route, and -for the first time in 7 months- remove my fixed ropes from the top of the cliff. At that moment, it was officially over for the season. That day I booked my boat back to the mainland, and resigned myself to abject failure. I had been defeated utterly... again.




Despite belaying Ingvar for several days after this on his new route, I was never tempted to re-equip Obsidian Obsession and have another crack at it... I was done.

The line of the "Rise of the
Masked Lapwing" Project.

Before I left Tasmania I pieced together and equipped a new route on the stunning headwall above The Great Roof, tackling the most outrageous exposed and steep terrain on Bare Rock, on the most perfect rock hereabouts, and with some of the most stunning climbing. Named the "Rise of the Masked Lapwing" Project (after an in-joke in my family), it is a contender for one of the best pitches of climbing in Northern Tasmania, and though I didn't have time left to score the First Ascent, it will be the catalyst to psyche me to return to my Second Home sometime in the future.




I caught the Spirit of Tasmania back to Melbourne on the 7th July. And thus ended my sojourn in the far south after 8 months. Make no mistake, though I was disappointed and disheartened at my failure, I was still sad to leave Tassie. I love the climbing there, and the environment is the very definition of "inspiring". I've enjoyed being a part of the local climbing scene, and also salivating over (and tapping into) the new routing potential. It's been a rad journey, and I want to say a big thanks to all the Taswegians who were a part of it.

Isaac Lethborg at the Boneyard
for yet another day of red-pointing
in the sun.
Gerry Narkowicz prepares to bolt a new "Bridgemaster Zero"
15-star Megaclassic at the new Tassie "Mega crag" of
North Sister.

Ingvar Lidman and myself on the Orange Crush/Obsidian Obsession
ledge (agaaaaaain) on yet another bitter winter day.
Andrew Martin repeats Yesterday's Hero (21) at Bare Rock.
Thanks for all the beers, Andy!!!



















Garry Phillips working on his
latest Boneyard MegaProject.






























I made a short film about my efforts on this route, entitled "Dealing with Failure: The Obsidian Obsession" which has been well received so far. Thanks to Neil Monteith for his "Executive Producer" efforts, and Crazy John Fisher for letting me use some stock footage from his short film: "Climbing Paschendale - Trench Warfare".



  

What Comes Next?


Looking across Taipan Wall...
Any questions?
On returning to the mainland, I made my way back to The Grampians. Being the middle of Winter, there weren't many people around to climb with (though there were approximately 100,000,000 boulders), but at this point in time I didn't really want to climb with anyone. I wanted to do some Free Soloing, some Top Rope Soloing, and a little bit of Lead Roped Soling, and use the time to decide what comes next in this climbing journey of mine.

Inevitably, that meant I went to Taipan wall.



















I spent 4 days working Serpentine (29), which -though it didn't blow my mind initially- grew on me over time as I pieced it together and it began to flow. By the end I was thoroughly enjoying every lap on the route, though disappointingly I never managed to do better than 2 falls over its length (on each of the crimp-boulder cruxes) due to my lack of Blueys-style crimp-boulder fitness after so much time in Tassie. I know now, however, that this is a route for me to come back to in the near-future.
















 

Looking down at my chalk and
tick-marks on Daedalus (28R).

I spent 2 days piecing together the free version of Daedalus (28R) which features a V6 slab boulder start that took me almost an entire session to do as a complete sequence, and an amazing (and rather runout) upper section that is a total sandbag at the original grade of 26M1, but utterly spectacular in its entirety.

Another day was split between Sirocco Pitch 2 (26), and Father Oblivion (26), both of which are great routes (but Father O is the far superior route of the 2,and nowhere near as cruxy), and another day on various smaller routes in the vicinity (including a repeat of Neil Monteith's Divided Years (25), a rap-in, climb-out route on the upper section of Taipan Wall).

I spent a day climbing Venom (28) with fellow New South Welshman Dave Hoyle (who went on to crush it on his Second lap), and did a few days of climbing with Kent Paterson at Van Dieman's Land and Muline (attempting Eye of the Tiger (29) and Path of Yin (30)).

In between free-soloing easy multipitches at Arapiles, I also climbed The 7th Pillar (22M1 - Aiding only a single move on the 2nd pitch, and the manky bolt ladder on the 1st pitch, having already done the variant First Pitch (free at 22/23R) last year) with former Blue Mountaineer and current Natimuk resident: Scotty Wearin. Other than a memorable moderate-grade multipitch romp up the guts of Taipan Wall, I went into The 7th Pillar with no expectation, and was pleasantly surprised. Every pitch is of very high quality, with ludicrous amounts of steep exposure at the grade, perfect rock, and challenging and varied climbing all the way to the classy beached-whale-mantle at the tippy top of the great wall. Definitely recommended, especially in its "almost free" form (aiding off just a single bolt, if you climb it via the Left Hand Variant 1st pitch).





Hanging out with Scotty Wearin on the belay
at the start of the 3rd Pitch on The 7th Pillar.
Eventually, though, I knew that the time would come to return to the real world And so it was that randomly on one arctic winter morning, while hiding from the rain beneath Eureka Wall and trying to psyche myself up for a lap on Pavlov's Dog (29), I decided that I'd had enough, and I went home.

Since being home I've had a few good days of climbing, it's been great to catch up with my climbing friends, and to see the evolution of the Woody/Climbing Training Environment (located in my back shed) during my absence (and the simultaneous evolution of those who have come to train there regularly). The beauty and scale of the Blue Mountains is always inspiring, and I'm actually looking forward to finding a job and going back to work (after almost 2 years as a professional climbing bumb(bly))...

But since I've been back there have been overwhelming challenges as well, not the least of which has been trying to decide what it is that I want from my climbing, and trying to understand why it is that I climb so obsessively at all. For the most part, I've been climbing relatively badly since I've been back. I've been feeling demotivated, flat, worn-out and easily frustrated. I've been feeling weak and directionless. On both rock and in the few times I've attempted to train in the ShredShed™ it's become rapidly apparent that my physical skillset has decreased due to not having climbed anything particularly powerful, bouldery or burly (in Yosemite, Tasmania and The Grampians, most hard moves can be solved with good footwork or some technical trickery), which -in itself- probably goes to explain why I wasn't able to step up to the plate and tick The Obsidian Obsession: I needed the sort of power and boulder-strength that I just couldn't build in Tasmania without specific training.

Or maybe I'm just looking for excuses.

Ben Jenga working the moves of Conehead and the
Barbituates (28)
at Nowra. Aesthetically beautiful rock
and climbing... Who would've thought such things
could be found at Nowra?
My inability to succeed at the primary goal of my trip to Tasmania has been a hard blow to my ego and my confidence, especially as it's not really that hard (by comparison), and the likely knowledge that I won't get another solid block of time to climb in Tasmania in the conceivable future means that the odds of me ever ticking The Obsidian Obsession are smaller than ever. Though I succeeded at most of my Tassie Objectives, and had a bloody good time during my sojourn, I cannot overlook the fact that I failed at what I'd really set out to do, and expended a huge amount of time to walk away empty-handed.

The same soul-crushing, ego-deflating sense of failure has overwhelmed me when I've been climbing back here in New South Wales, as I feel weak as a kitten on a worrying number of routes (which I would've been solid on once-upon-a-time), and my efforts to train in the ShredShed™ have been downright pathetic. I've never been a "gun" climber, but Tassie climbing -for the most part- played to all my strengths, and in doing so has now gone on to highlight how truly weak I am (or have become) in other areas.

To some small, amateurish extent, I can understand how exceptional climbers like Kim Carrigan, Andy Pollitt, Ben Moon and numerous less well-known local climbers (and even friends of mine) have destroyed themselves trying a specific route. Whereby the endless cycle of failure slowly withers away psyche and confidence until the very reason they fell in love with climbing seems incomprehensible. I'm asking those questions now, and trying to find my own solutions before my depleting motivation pushes me away from obsessive climbing.

But it's not all Dark Clouds on the horizon. I've got the perfect training environment. I've got the time to train. I've got a super-psyched crew of local climbers who are ever-enthusiastic and are crushing locally. And I've always got my passion for climbing obscurity to temper the egoistic pursuit of "harder climbing. There is tonnes of climbing-related activities to pursue, and I think that getting a job and having some time to rest, rebuild the psyche, and recover from some prolonged injuries I'm enduring will ultimately be a good thing for my future climbing endeavours.

In the meantime, I'm just looking for the proverbial silver lining among all these perceived clouds.

The "new and improved" ShredShed™ v3.0, located in my back shed.